MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 11 – (Africa, Unite)

At independence, South Sudan’s problems were and are daunting – but no more daunting and unique than the situation in the majority of African nations at their independence also, five decades earlier. Thus, everything happening in South Sudan today – South Sudan and the African Union (AU) should have seen this coming. That an organisation which has spent decades operating as a rebel group is going to have difficulty transforming itself overnight into a legitimate, democratic, parliamentary government is self-explanatory and has antecedents in Africa and the world. That a poverty-and-famine-stricken, largely peasant, oil-rich, infrastructurally poor, multi-ethnic nation, newly sovereign, without the familiar ancient common foe to unite against, is going to need the selfless Service of a revolutionary Leadership that makes the people understand that division, egocentricity and disintegration are the new common foes which they have to unitedly defeat now, is a lesson history has taught us. Not the familiar endless paper-rounds of ceasefire agreements will bring salvation to this new State now, and salvage and build upon whatever is left of the momentum of independence, but the self-sacrificial and deeply clear will of a Leadership that sounds the bell of reconciliation and genuine participatory upbuilding across the length and breadth of the land, in every South-Sudanese soul. Now more than ever, South Sudan needs leaders who think and act like Nelson Mandela.

No-one can tell if in the near or distant future, new African states will or will not break out of the existing, arbitrarily created, states of tension left behind by colonialism and in turn become “independent”, or whether a deeper calm will gradually set in within these countries of myriad states as they meld into functional united nation-states – but in the unpredictable nature of human history, who can tell? Yet one thing is for sure: no matter what happens, each state of tension will either bend to the gentle force of “Mandela-like” minds within its polity that push towards painful and tedious reconciliation, unity and harmony, or it will disintegrate sooner or later into internal chaos, like the majority of “independent” African nation-states all did, and like South Sudan is also now going through. There are those that will tell you that chaos is the necessary precursor to order; but six decades of African independence would also suggest that chaos, unchecked and unpacified, simply continues to beget even greater chaos.

The African continent is a kaleidoscope, a jigsaw puzzle, of hundreds of tribes and ethnic groups. If the continent does not intend to end up ridiculously splintered into innumerable mostly micro-mini single-tribe pseudo-nations, at odds with one another, weak, open to rape, exploitation and so-called “intervention”, then our countries and nations are bound perforce to remain multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-ideological. There is nothing we can do about it – this is the state in which we crossed path with the modern world. Of all continents, Africa above all is damned to unite or perish. Africans have no choice but to learn how to live in unity if they do not want to self-destruct and be eventually gradually re-colonised, steps towards which are already being actively, if surreptitiously, undertaken – economically, militarily, politically. Re-colonised by all those loving donor nations, East and West, who like to break bread into crumbs and miraculously shower us with fish, but never really teach us how to fish. Because, I guess, why should someone else teach you how to fish? –

But, watch fisherfolk when they go out to sea: to be successful, they do it in unison, in unity.

Christian or Moslem or Animist or whatever other faiths we differently follow, whatever our different tribes, our different tongues or our different races, our orientations, our ideologies, or our classes… the song is simple:

Africa, unite.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 (Ugandan Up-n-down)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 8 – (Angolan Angers, Zimbabwean Tragedy and a host of others)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 9 – (Sharing Power and Passing it on)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 10 – (Jasmin Revolution and repeated mistakes)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 10 – (Jasmine Revolution and repeated mistakes)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Some say that Mandela, by doing the right and revolutionary thing in South Africa, has placed upon that country’s shoulders the heaviest burden ever borne by an African nation, certainly the most historically unusual. The burden of responsibility. To preserve, protect and build upon… PEACE. Today’s South Africa has no antecedents in Africa, no African sister States to learn from. Instead, the others will study and learn from the curves, triumphs or failures and vicissitudes of South Africa’s socio-political path, post-Mandela. Whatever challenges modern South Africans still have to master in the generations going forward – just like every country has challenges to master – they started out under the guidance of a visionary leadership that not only set the political framework, but also socially and morally set the tone for a continued sustainable upbuilding. In their new beginning was the pronounced will to forge a more just and perfect union, a reconciled nation-soul, one in which the blessings of liberty are secured. The value of such a beginning cannot be over-emphasized. Every and any diversion that may ever occur in the future has a corrective reference point, like a compass needle, to which it can return. Mandela gave to South Africa, and to Africa as a whole, a special gift. He took a chance on peace, reconciliation and absolute democracy. Of modern Africa’s foundational leaders, Nelson Mandela – whose country obtained freedom last – was the one who took the leap of faith. The last became the first.

True, it is not an easy example to follow, Mandela’s. Infact it has few precedents in known human history, not just in Africa. On such a large national scale, to checkmate a slide into civil strife and bring about the mutual pacification and unification of bitterly warring nation-subgroups, guiding them into a voluntary fusion of patriots, the large majority of whom want to make the nation project work – and he achieved this feat purely by the force of pragmatic forgiveness and well-defined reconciliation, aided by the iron power of persuasion, diplomacy and tact, full of farsightedness and a sense of history. TO crown it all, he secured it by serving one term in office and then stepping down. In the twenty-seven years he spent in prison, he had watched with frustration as one African nation-state after another squandered the momentum of independence and liberation, and failed to start the rotating engine of democracy, or build the institutions that lay the foundation for patriotic, enthusiastic, inter-united upbuilding. Instead they degenerated into national fratricide, due to the inability of even the most well-meaning and most intelligent leaders of politics, leaders of military and leaders of thought and of faith, to forsake vengeance for reconciliation; unilateralism for universal inclusion; suppression and oppression for liberty of rights and free will; arbitrariness for the rule of law; rigid ideology for a flexible approach to a real and changing world; personal power for nation-wide empowerment; personal wealth for national enrichment; past grouses for present peace and future progress; selfish desires for national interests; and demagoguery for democracy. Economic projects without political emancipation is the same as building on shaky ground. You need politics to protect the economy. As true as it is that economic troubles can destabilise a country, so is it also true and all the more important to have stable politics in place to safeguard country and economy. Whether the economy is flourishing or is fragile and floundering, you need stable sustainable politics to protect it. Stable sustainable politics, however, goes deeper then even a constitution. It is a moral contract that a society has with itself. Yes, ‘tis true indeed: peace is harder than war. And Mandela learned from history. Not only did he politically reconcile black and white in South Africa; but, even more impressively within the African context, he pacified native Black groups, convincing adversarial African tribes that there was more gain in cooperation than in conflict, and the path to peace does not always have to pass through the flaming gates of war. Why don’t others learn from that?

Today, in modern North Africa, five years after popular revolutions via which their peoples maneuvered their countries into position for a new beginning, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have been unable to manage the momentum that began with the so-called Jasmine revolution. In Egypt, the newly democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood President, with the backing of his supporters, immediately set about repeating all the historical errors of the past, ostracising and repressing different parties, groups and ideologies, disempowering the judiciary and trying to strong-arm a new constitution into place, thus triggering furious and vicious waves of resistance. The nation, in the middle of a sensitive, tentative search for unity, was immediately and bitterly divided again, and then army General el-Sisi pushed aside Mursi, setting a new sequence of events into motion, the end-result of which no-one can yet say, and North Africa too is still troubled. All of this on the same continent that had recently produced a Nelson Mandela, a beacon of light, and a shinning example to all on how to turn years of persecution into the moral authority to reconcile a nation within, and with, its many selves.

Be it religion, be it ethnicity, be it race, be it class, be it ideology, be it orientation, or one thing or the other… there has always been something to divide Africans. And there have been pitifully few strong spirits with the courage, voice, moral and political authority to empower a reconciliation of the peoples.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

… continued in Part 11/11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 11 – (Africa, Unite)

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 (Ugandan Up-n-down)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 8 – (Angolan Angers, Zimbabwean Tragedy and a host of others)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 9 – (Sharing Power and Passing it on)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 9 – (Sharing Power and Passing It On)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

History is the teacher of the wise. The irony of the squandered momentum of African independence is that many of our first generation independence leaders, like Nyerere, like Nasser, like Nkrumah, like Selasie, Senghor, Houphouët-Boigny, Kenyatta and the list gets longer, were unquestionably deep-thinking, patriotic, well-meaning, ideologically clear, passionately driven and courageous personalities and leaders, conscious of their calling and fired by a sense of mission. Their gravest mistake, however, was the one that Nelson Mandela was determined not to make. They disobeyed a law best expressed by a very simple African proverb: A tree does not make a forest. No matter how deep, great, and whatever other superlative you are, you alone cannot move your country forward. Everybody must be involved. Their deepest error was not economic, ideological or military – it was political. Politically they became, at best, one-sided; at worst, unilateral. But you cannot build upon a divided house. Especially when it is your calling to be the first in a new time. You must chaperone the building of the foundation for the future and lasting peace and unity of your country’s peoples. The most important first step for a newly dependent African country is unification, not divide-and-rule; reconciliation, not vindictiveness; healing of wounds, not continuation of ancient feuds. Like a practised reverse parker, the first duty of anyone who gets into power is – almost contradictorily – to prepare to relinquish that power. Only then will such a one wield that power wisely in all its poignancy and brevity. For power is always brief in the end.

In such a tribal kaleidoscope as Africa is, the primary light filter is unity. Politics derives its strength from unity and solidarity. But the leadership style of practically each of the first and second generation nationalist leaders and regimes in power almost invariably was a one-man or one-group show, authoritarian or dictatorial, forcefully exclusive of all opposition and adversary. Most of them stayed on in power endlessly until either they died there, were killed, overthrown or forced by events to hastily stage-manage a belated exit. The few who were able to avoid serious civil unrest, did it largely by their own mercurial powers of diplomacy, or sometimes by economic policies that uneasily delayed the effects of political disenfranchisement. Economic progress without political integration is a game of Russian roulette. Every downward swing simply reminded the people that they are not united – and each time, they placed the blame on their long-winded leaders. Ultimately even the most devoted, apparently successful leaders also had to make way in order for the democracy experiment to take their place. Democracy’s joke on those who wish to bring progress is that it requires of them, above all, simply to get out of the way. And thereafter to join in and participate in the building and maintaining of a system that ensures that others too, in their own turn will get out of the way also. Politics is not kind to permanent guests.

Re-enter Nelson Mandela, in South Africa – ten years after Zimbabwe, thirty years after the euphoric year of African so-called independence – a sadder and a wiser man. And a more determined one too. If ever, in the wilderness of history, the right person was at the right place at the right time, it was Nelson Mandela. History’s quiet thoughtful student. He knew what needed to be done, and he had the heart, the intellect, the character and the experience to not just do it, but also to inspire his people to go down that road with him. The road of inclusion. The path of reconciliation. The anchoring of democracy. A bold attempt at Peace, unity and democracy. The historical chance that Mugabe, despite the benefit of hindsight, had been unwilling or unable to grasp, Nelson Mandela hungrily and wisely did. Africa needs peace, not war. Upbuilding and liberty, not oppression and suppression. Unification, not fracturisation. Reconciliation, not vengeance. Because if we go down the path of vengeance, there will be no exit from its downward spiral – for everybody has also wronged somebody else irreparably somewhere down the line. But while Africans squabble with one another, the rest of the world is rushing ahead, not waiting for them to get their act together. And now they are encroaching back on Africa, economically, politically, militarily.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

… continued in Part 10/11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 10 – (Jasmine Revolution and repeated mistakes)

Preceding chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 (Ugandan Up-n-down)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 8 – (Angolan Angers, Zimbabwean Tragedy and a host of others)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 8 – (Angolan Angers, Zimbabwean Tragedy, and a host of others)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Next to South Africa and Rhodesia, the Portuguese colonies remained for many years a rallying magnet for panafrican liberation passions and efforts. In the seventies, as a result of sustained armed resistance, coupled with a sharp socio-political mood swing in Portugal, they eventually got their independence. But even they did not fare much better in the management of the riddles of independence. In oil-rich Angola, for instance, three groups had engaged in the colonial war against Portugal. As independence approached, they each laid claim to the leadership of the country and proved unable to recognise the gravity of the situation. They failed to bring up the serious will to negotiate a difficult but necessary compromise on power sharing, of anchoring the principles of democracy as well as building the institutions that support it. Instead they turned their guns on each other and, with the same fervour with which they had fought a patriotic colonial war, plunged the country into a selfish and unpatriotic civil war. Shamelessly, each side called upon both sides of the Iron Curtain for arms and help, to help them kill their fellow Angolans. The U.S. sent arms and European mercenaries, the U.S.S.R sent arms and heavy artillery, China sent arms and logistics support, Cuba sent training instructors and special forces, apartheid South Africa – launching from its South West Africa base – sent whole columns of fighting troops, Zaire and Zambia sent advice and moral support. And the Angolans made war on each other. Angola, who had just obtained liberation from Portugal, made herself into a proxy battle theatre for the Cold War, with a mix of apartheid strategic interests. Angola thereafter became the reaping fields of decades of internal unrest, bereft of the will towards the essence of democracy – i.e. compromise and power-sharing.

These are just a few examples. The list goes on, of historical examples of what happens when independence or liberation are not followed by the constitutional upbuilding of a political system, rooted in conciliation, unification and equitable sharing of power, the democratic spirit, to which the leadership – terminal and law-abiding – submits itself; leadership by example. Guinea, Libya, Togo, Benin, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi – … fill in the blanks – all also went a similar way. Or be it even capitalist Kenyatta in Kenya who ruled for fifteen years until he died in Office; or socialist Nyerere in Tanzania who ruled for twenty-four years before handing over to a hand-picked successor; or Senghor in Senegal who bowed out only after twenty years and five terms in office; or Kaunda in Zambia who relinquished power after twenty-seven long years as President – all strong personalities during whose tenures, like with Houphouët-Boigny, their countries avoided the violent descent into some of the extreme forms of chaos that manifested in some other countries – their reigns nevertheless all exhibit one common feature, homogeneous with the rest of the continent. The long, autocratic nature of these foundational presidential tenures or regimes in Africa undermined the nurturing of a democratic political tradition of broad parliamentary participation, separation of powers, the repeated cycles of free elections, change of governments and regimes, rotation and sharing of responsibilities.

For more than two decades after independence, the military held Algeria in the iron grip of a one-party dictatorship that controlled political, cultural, social, religious and intellectual life, but offered no solution to the pertinent Algerian riddles. The french-algerian question, the Algerian-Berber question, the military-democracy question, the religion-state question. All these conflicts tormented the soul of the nation. Every side is convinced of its own superiority, even to this day. The concept of a solution that contains – voluntarily – a bit of everything, remains, for many, a challenge in contradiction.

“You have inherited a jewel. Keep it that way.” These were the words of advice that Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere is reported to have given to Robert Mugabe as he became the first democratically elected leader of the new free state of Zimbabwe. And yet… even Zimbabwe, which, dropping the oppression-name Rhodesia, became free and independent a full twenty years after the African year of independence, did not learn anything from the events of those two previous decades. As though Africa had no recent history from which she could learn, Zimbabwe promptly repeated the mistakes of other African nations before her. Robert Mugabe had been in power for ten long years by the time Mandela was released from prison in 1990; for fourteen years by the time Mandela became president of South Africa; for nineteen years by the time Mandela stepped down; and is still the leader of Zimbabwe even today, after Mandela’s death. In this year of 2016 Robert Mugabe celebrated his ninety-second birthday, and yet, despite internal and external pressures on him to let go of power, in the face of decades-long manifold accusations of bigotry, nepotism, oppression and bias, he continues to insist on the perpetuation of himself in office. In quiet moments what must he think when he reflects upon how his friend and mate – Mandela – handled his own country’s transition? Mugabe himself was also once a freedom fighter who endured eleven years of imprisonment at the hands of his people’s oppressors before independence. Yet, when he became president of a liberated Zimbabwe, he also ended up squandering the momentum of independence, doing everything other than create a broad-based conciliatory democratic upbuilding that could have harnessed all the strengths and potential of this great country’s diverse peoples. Today he presides over an impoverished, divided, isolated, tense Nation.

UPDATE: In Nov 2017, One year after this article was written, the Zimbabwean Army unceremoniously ousted old man Mugabe from Office as he continued trying to clutch onto power. He was deposed, and died two years later in the well-equipped hospitals of a foreign land.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

… continued in Part 9 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 9 – (Sharing Power and Passing It On)

Preceding chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 (Ugandan Up-n-down)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 – (Ugandan Up-n-down)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Often, all independence did was reveal that the only force that united the self-acclaimed nationalists was their drive to get rid of the oppressors or colonial usurpers. Once that was done, ancient grouses along ethnic, tribal, class, racial and religious lines – and sometimes even more modern ideological ones, like the capitalism-socialism conflict, or the democracy-unilateralism question – bobbed up to the surface and threatened to tear each country apart from within. But largely the cracks were caused by ethnicity, ideology and class, powered by fear and greed, lubricated by corruption, blinded by feelings of messianic grandeur, fortified by an absurd sense of entitlement, in the spirit of vengeance. The foolish belief – of each person, each clan and each group – of being better than the others, and the primitive insistence that one side must rule over the others or there shall be no peace and no progress. One-party states and governments emerged or strove to emerge, ruthlessly crushing opposition endeavours – and since most parties were built around ethnic, class or religious blocs in the first place, this only served to further exacerbate tribal tensions, ethnic hatreds, religious rivalries, group suspicions and ancient racial animosities. Class and wealth exhibited ethnic features. Before long, coups began to occur and dictatorships became the order of the day. And, before Africa knew it, the sixties and seventies had given way to the eighties and the nineties and, all over the continent, Africans were still trying to figure out to whom they owe their political allegiance: to tribe, religion or country? And they still remained and remain unable to move forward unitedly.

Uganda undertook initial tentative steps to reconcile and accommodate the different northern and southern tribes of the nation, amidst flourishing exports and per capita growth, in the spirit of confidence and optimism in the wake of independence. A few years into post-independence, everything broke down when President Obote suspended the National Assembly and introduced a new constitution in which he accorded himself wide and sweeping powers. Here again the cynical African quandary showed its face. Ostensibly in a bid to prevent the tribalisation and factionalisation of national politics, the president centralised power under his command and insisted on a one-party state, thereby unleashing the very destructive and centrifugal forces of inter-sectional chaos and confrontation he had claimed he wanted to prevent. Uganda’s fate was sealed when, in order to secure himself against all internal opposition, Obote relied more and more on the army, under the command of Idi-Amin, the megalomanic self-proclaimed “Conqueror of the British Empire and true heir to the throne of Scotland”, who eventually overthrew his boss. Idi-Amin’s regime ravaged, raped and wrecked Uganda. After Idi-Amin fled in 1979, Obote regained power and Uganda descended into civil war. Here too the mismanagement of the explosive momentum of independence, and the refusal to foster and nourish democracy, brought decades of death, impoverishment and socio-political disjoint to Uganda.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

… continued in Part 8 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 8 – (Angolan Angers, Zimbabwean Tragedy and a host of others)

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 -(Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

There is a brief moment of opportunity, in the hour of freedom and liberation, when the momentum that is presented by the formation or regeneration of a nation-state gives to its chief policy-makers, its opinion-shapers and its mass-leaders the rare chance to hammer a brave new impulse deep into the orientation-seeking psyche of the nation and shift it unto a path of mutually supportive and constructive upbuilding. It is a moment in time, a window of opportunity. If missed, a sequence of events is set into motion which makes it progressively difficult to recapture the momentum and the opportunity. If grasped, however, the same occurs, in the opposite, positive, direction. Nelson Mandela and South Africa recognised it and took a chance on it. The leaders of South Sudan, so far, seem blind and immune to it. South Sudan has simply joined the long list of African nations in which independence was followed by disorientation, dis-unification, breakdown and destabilization. Examples, as I said, abound.

In Ghana, Africa’s black star, Kwame Nkrumah weathered hefty colonial resistance and, even from within the walls of his unjust imprisonment, forced and triggered Ghanaian independence, and then came to power in a blinding blaze of glory that inspired nationalistic fervour all over the continent, further fuelling the thirst for independence in Black Africa. Nkrumah’s impact on the socio-political psyche of Black Africans then and now cannot be over-emphasized. No other African independence leader so charismatically inspired, articulated and harnessed revolutionary zeal, Black intellectual nationalistic self-confidence, and absolute disdain towards all forms of dependence and imperialism like Nkrumah did. He championed the search for innovative solutions to Africa’s economic problems and went ahead trying to implement his. He recognised the danger of tribalism and put forward policies to reduce its detrimental effects. He was the very spirit of pan-africanism, a driving force behind the forming of the OAU. But, while calling for pan-african unity on the continental stage, in his own country he banned opposition political parties, nationalised as much of industry as he could, put price controls in place, centralised power and placed his faith, like his friend Nasser did, in his own indigenous socialism hybrid. The toast of praise-singers and sycophants, he trusted no-one and placed the entire country under his personal control. He sunk huge sums into forward-looking industrialization schemes, but most got mismanaged by a dizzying number of state corporations that sprung up like mushrooms. Convinced that these and other unilaterally decreed measures would lead Ghana to the promised land, he never wavered in his fervour. The speedy decline of the Ghanaian economy which followed in the ensuing years was staggering and painful to all lovers of Africa and Ghana. Six years after independence, Ghana’s reserves stood at a shocking £500,000. Patronage and corruption flourished, discontent, division and internal resistance grew, the unwanted was ostracized, opposition elements imprisoned and silenced. There was no blueprint for an alternative solution or for a reshuffling of executive responsibilities. In Ghana, all roads led through Nkrumah. Less than ten years after his triumphant entry, in a country that had become riddled and debilitated by corruption and poverty, Nkrumah was unceremoniously overthrown in a coup d’etat, which was followed by another coup d’etat… then eventually by another… and Ghana was spiralling down a pit of retrogression unimaginable as at the time of her trail-blazing independence in 1957. It took decades before Ghana understood the painful lesson of the bitter pill of militarism and one-sided pseudo-democracy, and gradually began to build anew a new truer democracy, a wasteland of wasted decades scarring its history.

In Cote d’Ivoire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, feeling himself to be ideologically superior to Kwame Nkrumah, made a bet with Nkrumah as to which of their two nations would be better developed within the decade that was to follow. And, at first he might have seemed to have won the bet. He avoided communism like the pest and predicted, already way back in the sixties, the Chinese invasion of Africa. He was one of the few independence era leaders who went the way of economic liberalism. Spurning nationalistic zeal, he stayed in close contact with the French, his country’s former colonial masters, and gave French capitalistic endeavours a freehand in the Ivory Coast. Apart from that, he did nothing different from all the rest. The self-acclaimed Crocodile kept a steely grip on government, permitted only a one-party state, devoid of democracy. He made no attempt to anchor democratic principles of equity, opinion-sourcing, power-sharing and broad engagement. No empowered participation, rotation of responsibility, the sharing of leadership responsibilities, socio-political unification of differing tribes and religions, the internal blending of a nation into one people. For twenty years no elections were held in Cote d’Ivoire, as Houphouët-Boigny cleverly left the country under the hypnosis of French economic control while perfecting the art of neutralising his opponents and critics by giving them tantalizing little morsels of pseudo-power in a system utterly dominated by him and him alone. For over two decades it seemed to work. When the collapse came, it was swift, brutal and sobering. Global prices of Ivorian exports like cocoa and coffee plunged. Oil prices shot up. French businesses repatriated their money to France. The Ivory Coast was bankrupt. Inspite of all his efforts, Cote d’Ivoire’s economic self-reliance never materialised; and now that the bubble had bust, the missed opportunities in true political and democratic maturation became apparent. As Houphouët-Boigny’s health declined, “heirs” to the throne began to jostle for position. By his death, in office, in 1993, as the third longest serving leader in the whole world as at that time, the long ignored internal chaos and disharmony was all he left behind. What had once seemed like a model became exposed as a mirage. It was simply a case of delayed reaction. Cote d’Ivoire too eventually went the way of Nigeria, Ghana and so many others – coups, corruption, unrest, civil war, militant dictatorship, ethnic enmities, religious rancour, and division. Neither Cote d’Ivoire nor Ghana was better than the other. They were in the same boat.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije

… continued in Part 6 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 – (Sudan and South Sudan)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Those who have a knowledge of post-independent Africa will, sadly, not be surprised by the turn of events in South Sudan today. Macabre, but true. Indeed, they would have expected it and, like Mandela and his team, and they would have prepared for it, to try and avert it. South Sudan’s road to independence has been long and winding. She began her life in the modern African world as a region of an arab-dominated Sudan which was herself the joint colonial property of Egypt and Britain. Even before their first modern independence – that of Sudan from Egypt and Britain – Sudan was divided into an arab-speaking islamic north on the one hand, and on the other hand a south full of a myriad black tribes speaking different tongues, mainly Christianised, partly adherent still to ancient African religions, and basically lacking a sense of united nationhood amongst themselves. What united them was their wariness of the north in the face of a long history of slavery and jihadic wars; whereas the north itself was focused on achieving independence from its external colonisers. And independence indeed eventually came, but it did not bring peace with it. Acrimony between military and politics, disputes between Marxists and non-Marxists, moslem-christian religious animosities, and the distrust between north and south, ensured that years of coups, civil wars, genocide and violent disunity would follow. Decades after independence, seemingly unable or unwilling to find a lasting workable peace between north and south, in 2011 they parted ways acrimoniously. Soon after, in the newly independent and sovereign South Sudan, the very same quarrels, accusations and maneuverings that had plagued newly independent African countries five decades earlier, reared their stubborn heads here too and South Sudan degenerated into a hydra-headed civil war. Finally, the tribes of the South, lacking any other external adversary, seemed all too willing to turn their guns on each other and destroy what it now seems that they never had nor ever really tried to cultivate during the decades of tribulation: internal Oneness, inter-tribal political unity. And, unfortunately for them, it seems that they, too, have no Madibas amongst them.

Take any African region, north, west, east and south, and study its collective post-independent or post-liberation history. Examples abound, enough of them. The wound cries out like a disjointed pack of scattered wild voices screaming from a burning house: the lack of reconciliation; the lack of representative, inclusive democracy, of socio-political unity. Some will call it the lack of national common sense. In Africa, for some reason, political office is not voluntarily terminal, whether or not the constitutions stipulate such, and power is not shared. Leaders seem to love only the concept of their country, the fact of having a country, but do not also love all the peoples of the country, their welfare, their liberties and their peacefully united future – not if it requires that the rulers and their support groups themselves equalise themselves with the rest of the country and subject themselves to a rule of law that stands above everyone. Instead, everybody wants to grab the crown, and sit on the throne, and then ostracize, under-develop and punish his enemies. No matter what effects this has on the country in the long and short run.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

… continued in Part 5 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 -(Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES : 1 – (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES : 2 – (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES : 3 – (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES : 3 – (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

In Tunisia, in the so-called French Maghreb region of North Africa, Habib Bourguiba endured imprisonment and persecution, bravely kept up the struggle for liberation, and eventually led the country to independence in 1956, pushing the French out of the political helm of affairs in Tunisia. He applied himself to the economic betterment of his country, experimented with socialist models and, when they did not yield the desired results, switched to more liberal economic strategies. Internationally he was very concerned about securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. In the mean time, however, politically he set about instituting himself as the sole authority and system in Tunisia. He pushed through a constitution that gave him near dictatorial powers, and was eventually elected “president for life”. He maintained an authoritarian regime until, after more than three decades as president, a doctor declared him medically unfit to rule any longer. Ben Ali, his minister, succeeded him and he too applied himself to Tunisia’s economy, more than tripling its GDP within a twenty-year period. Politically, however, he too went down the road well trampled. He spent the next twenty-four years refining and perfecting his control over state and government, stage-managing elections, persecuting opposition, blocking free speech and incessantly perpetuating himself in power. But the long arm of the people’s fury, come to fruition in the Jasmine revolution, eventually caught up with him and his cohorts, at long last, in 2011.

Apart from in Egypt, the Tunisian revolution also triggered a similar revolution in neighbouring Libya, which historically has also not fared better, plunging that country too into riots, bloodshed and conflict, leading to the overthrow and death of their own once-liberator turned lifetime-dictator, Gadddafi. Today, more than five decades after modern independence, the present generations of these countries have to struggle desperately and painfully in a volatile, polarised, changing world, to attain what their Independence-generation failed to do: to motivate all sections of their populace into finding, anchoring and practicing a sustainable self-rotating form of representational constitutional democracy, one in which tolerance and reciprocal respect of differing wishes, inclusion, reconciliation and rule of law, within the context of a global modern world, hold sway.

In Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selasie enjoyed the reputation of being the head of the only nation in Africa that was never successfully colonised. In the 1930s he courageously resisted Mussolini and the Italian invasion and then continued to rule Ethiopia, as Emperor, for many more decades to follow – until in a 1974 coup he was overthrown and dethroned, and then imprisoned in his own Grand Palace by his own people, where he died a few months later, a lonely old man. In his many long decades as leader of the Ethiopian Empire, he had fired the imaginations of Africans and Blacks all over the world, and hosted and reigned as founding chairman of the Organisation of African Unity. He inspired religions and movements, stood as a bastion of global racial equality and dignity, abolished slavery, and pumped much time, effort and the scarce financial means available to Ethiopia into a forward-thinking infrastructural modernisation and industrialization effort. Only one thing he did not do: show any interest in a political game-changer that would replace the monarchy with a true representational democracy in which all the different peoples, classes and sections of the nation would have, and unitedly administer, a joint stake. Civil wars with Eritrean, Oromo and Somali liberationists destabilised the state; a state in which Selasie ruled over and decided everything – administrative, adjudicative, financial, military and ministerial – an autocratic monarch. After the Wollo droughts and the famine came in the late sixties and early seventies, the disconnect between the leaders and the peoples tore the old establishment down. The army mutinied, popular revolts tore through the streets, and strikes and demonstrations paralysed the land. Emperor Haile Selasie was eventually deposed – after almost six decades as Ethiopia’s leader – and a new dictatorship under Major Mengistu took his place. Post-Selasie Ethiopia was then plunged into years of coups, dictatorship, Red Terror, uprisings, dispute, war and violence – all compounded by drought and famine. The Emperor had never built or championed a political system that could harness the patriotic, broad, representative efforts of the whole country’s peoples towards peacefully and constitutionally finding and executing a joint self-sustaining, rotational solution to their problems. He left a divided, politically adrift nation behind. Ethiopia was thus cruelly and ironically sent back to square one, despite its great history and iconic leader.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije

… continued in Part 4 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 – (Sudan and South Sudan)

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: Part 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: PART 2 (Egypt’s modern pharaohs)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 – (Egypt’s modern pharaohs)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

History is the teacher of the wise, and Mandela himself proved to be a good student – for he had many dramatic examples to learn from. Long before South Africa’s struggles for liberation from apartheid yielded fruit, other African nations had shot out of the starting block, propelled forward by the momentum of independence and freedom, to grapple each with the daunting task of forging a modern nation-being. It reads like a soap opera, one unresolved episode after another, with dependable repetition. A few examples suffice:

In newly independent Egypt, the leader of the revolution Colonel Nasser, despite his political victories against Britain, his Suez heroism and his Sinai vicissitudes, despite his enduring popularity at home and abroad, his inspiring effect on colonised nations worldwide, his influence on the afro-arab stage and the cultural boom that his tenure occasioned, was reluctant – when it came to internal affairs – to allow or foster the blossoming of a political system in which his personal power was anything less than absolute. He crushed all opposition parties, be they communists, capitalists, muslim brothers or any other grouping critical of him. He imprisoned thousands of opponents, including some who had been his comrades in the revolution. He centralised the planning of the economy, nationalised industry and everything he could nationalise, controlled both state and government, and placed a tight grip on all types of unions and institutions, from academic, to religious, the media, to the youth. He became, in effect, the modern-day pharaoh. By the time he died, in office, in 1970, after fourteen years as president, he had written his name eternally into the history books of not only Africa, and had attempted to industrialise and modernise Egypt; but also, portentously, he had practised largely only political repression during his reign. He did not use the momentum of liberation to propel all sides of the country into the forging of a political culture of unity and inclusion. Very simply, he had omitted to lay the foundation for a balanced political system of representative, rotational, shared democracy – an omission, the after-effects of which still plague a restless, internally unreconciled Egypt to this day. Nasser was succeeded by another military veteran, Sadat, after whose assassination many years later another soldier, Mubarak, took over. In 2011 the people arose in a popular revolution against him. The Revolution culminated in the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi who, after more violent protests, was ousted in a coup-d’etat by his own head of Armed Forces Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who in turn a year later transformed from Military leader to civilian president in an election boycotted by most other political parties. Despite being one of the most ancient civilizations of mankind, and an independent modern nation, Egypt is today still struggling to find internal reconciliation, peace and socio-political harmony.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije

(Continued in Part 3 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES : 3 – (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)

Preceding Chapter/
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: Part 1 (Preamble)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 – (Preamble)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

It sounds like a myth now. They say South Africa was on the brink of civil war after the release of Mandela and the collapse of apartheid. Civil war? Really? The Zulus and the Xhosas were heading for tribal war? And, simultaneously, the blacks against the whites in racial massacre? Well, it is true that it all sounds a bit far-fetched to some people now… because it did not happen. Because Mandela opted for reconciliation and spearheaded an intense drive to find a common basis for all to live, share power and face the future together. But, as far-fetched as all this may seem today, it was actually the most likely turn that events would have taken, based on the history of African so-called independence. This is a history that Mandela, and those who thought like him, knew all too well and, like wise people do, gravely feared. It is a history replete with the educative one-two punch of the strong heady wine of independence, liberation and freedom, eventually followed by the bad-tempered and moody hangover of disorientation, destabilisation and crisis.

Independence, all too often, is followed by civil strife and civil war. On all continents, in different eras, there abound records of great and small nations who have been unable to avoid this cliff in the arch of their history. When a nation-space has been oppressed or suppressed for a long time, it exhibits the properties of a socio-political pressure cooker. Once the lid of suppression is lifted, tumultuous explosions sooner or later follow as the various agendas and sensibilities of its component parts push to the fore, each demanding fulfilment. It requires strong-willed, knowing, conscious leadership to harness the liberated energies and channel them into constructive upbuilding. The opposite would mean a repetition of the same wild implosion into self-destruction witnessed after independence in many African countries, and as is happening right now in South Sudan. It is a pity that more than two decades after the fall of apartheid, Mandela’s example has not been understood and internalised by many other African peoples, personalities and groups still trying to find the most conducive forms of post-independent co-existence.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije

Continued in Part 2 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 – (Egypt’s modern pharaohs)